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Do Cops Just Tase People for Fun Now?

On the day Michael Brown was buried, two federal lawsuits were filed over police using tasers to attack civilians and torture prisoners.
 
 
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Dante Parker, who died after tased by San Bernardino County sheriffs in early August, in an undated family photograph.

 
 
 
 

On the first Sunday in August, Brandon Ruff, an offduty sergeant with the Philadelphia Police Department, was given three guns by a friend who wanted to turn them in to the police under the city’s no-questions-asked firearms policy. Little did Ruff know when he walked into a station at 6:30pm, that by midnight he would be assaulted by a half-dozen police officers using Tasers—stun guns delivering up to 50,000 volts—arrested, thrown in a cell, and put under a police investigation.

“You are a piece of f**king sh*t, you are scum, and you are supervisor. You are a disgrace to me, this department and the 35th District. You do not belong on this job,” a desk sergeant yelled at Ruff, after he produced his police ID, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the officer on Monday, seeking damages and a court review of cops who use “their status as police officers to have persons falsely arrested, assaulted and [subject to] malicious prosecution and unlawfully searched... to achieve ends not reasonably related to their police duties.”

Excessive use of force by police is hardly new. But it is unusual when a police officer points the finger at abuses by fellow cops, as Ruff does in his lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania. When Ruff identified himself as a cop, one officer shouted back, “I’ll fucking tase you,” the lawsuit said. A half-dozen other officers then ambushed him as he stepped outside to make a telephone call, grabbing him, roughing him up, shocking him and finally arresting him.

Ruff’s suit was one of two filed in federal court Monday citing police brutality and Tasers. In his suit, Ruff said that Philadelphia police were “deliberately indifferent” to the need for “more or different” training, supervision, investigation and discipline in for “false arrest… [and] evidence planting.” Ruff said the department also turned a blind eye to “police officers with emotional or psychological problems.”  

The second federal lawsuit filed Monday over Taser abuse, in San Bernardino County in southeast California, concerned eight deputy sheriffs who routinely tortured prisoners at a jail with Tasers, even sharing videos of the assaults for entertainment. The victim, Cesar Vazquez, was regularly attacked while working in the jail’s kitchen. The lawsuit has even more graphic details than Ruff’s cop-on-cop violence:

Vazquez “was given a job within the [West Valley Detention] Center as a ‘chow server;’ in that job, Plaintiff was to possess greater privileges than other inmates, including telephone calls, television time, and freedom of movement within the Center,” the suit said. “Soon after starting this job, Plaintiff was told by [San Bernadino County Sheriff Department Captain Robert] Escamilla and [Deputy Sherrif Russell] Kopasz that these two deputies used a Taser or other electroshock weapon on, or ‘tased,’ all chow servers as part of an ‘initiation’ process.”

“Escamilla and Kopasz then proceeded to place their weapons on the Plaintiff’s upper thighs, and produced a shock to the Plaintiff’s body, causing pain so intense that Plaintiff leapt to his feet; Escamilla and Kopasz each laughed,” the suit said, noting that they tased Vazquez once a week or more. “On another occasion, while Plaintiff and other inmates were watching television, Escamilla approached them and said that he was going to hold a ‘taser seminar,’” the suit continued. “Escamilla told Plaintiff to sit down so that the deputies could try to break the Plaintiff’s ‘record’ of the number of electroshock weapons Plaintiff could endure at a time.”

The suit said that Vazquez “cooperated” with another string of taser assaults by [Deputy Sheriff Nicholas] Oakley “since Oakley used a threat of physical harm… which Plaintiff considered more serious than the possible tasing.” The suit said another deputy sheriff, Andrew Cruz, “tased Plaintiff between 20 and 30 times… while housed at the facility,” between March and December 2013.